Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Veteran recalls scene at Normandy on June 6, 1944

Seventy years ago today, William “Bill” Taylor was on a boat filled with halftracks and a jeep on its way to invade a beach in German-occupied Normandy, France.

Taylor, now 93, was a part of the legendary D-Day invasion.

“I got close enough to the beach I could see (the bodies) lying just like flies on a screen door,” said Taylor, who was born in Manhattan.

“I didn’t want any part of that. I didn’t want to go there. Would you want to?”

Taylor, who’s lived on a farm between Wamego and St. George ever since he was honorably discharged from the military in December of 1945, saw the horrors of World War II first hand.

He drove a halftrack (a vehicle with wheels in front for steering and tracks in back) and was a sharpshooter.

He’s received many accolades for his time in the war, including a EAME (Europe-Asia-Middle Eastern) Theater Ribbon with a Silver Service Star and a Bronze Arrowhead — which signifies participation in “Operation Overlord,” otherwise known as D-Day. He also was awarded a World War II Victory Ribbon.

Taylor said it takes five Bronze Stars to get to one Silver Star.

For more than 50 years, Taylor has been wary of talking about his time in what many consider the most epic war of human civilization. And after the 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan” — a Tom Hanks led film that opens with a very graphic depiction of the D-Day landings — came out, Taylor said he tried to watch it, but couldn’t get through those opening scenes.

“I haven’t seen that for years,” Taylor said of the movie. “And when I did, I shut the (SOB) off. I didn’t look.”

Taylor said his father was a World War I veteran and didn’t say much about that war when he was growing up. Every now and then, though, Taylor said his father — who was crippled on the day before the Armistice — would speak about the combat he saw.

It was at this point tears filled Taylor’s eyes.

He needed a moment.

“He would talk about things that soured me on combat,” Taylor said. “He was infantry and he didn’t mind talking about it. So I didn’t want to go (to war).”

Before he was drafted in December of 1942, Taylor said he hadn’t been anywhere else but his boyhood home of Manhattan, and after he turned 11, his current surroundings near Wamego.

But soon he saw action in north Africa and after that, he was in the choppy and rough waters of the English Channel on the morning of June 6, 1944, as he and thousands of others began the Allied assault on the beaches of Normandy.

His boat was headed for the beach, but then something happened during the chaos. Taylor’s boat was hit and began to sink.

“I was in the first wave of D-Day,” he said. “It was eight boatloads of halftracks. Seven of them got in. Mine didn’t get in. We were sunk in the English Channel, yes, sir.

“We got orders to go into the beach. The front end (of the boat) would come down and we could drive off in the water. We then got orders to ‘get the hell out,’ and so we backed out. Finally, the boat got damaged and started sinking.”

Taylor said he and his crew were ordered to go to a rescue boat, so he grabbed his tommy gun, slung it over his shoulder and jumped from the sinking boat to the other boat as it bounced back and forth because of the waves. He looked back at the damaged boat with all its vehicles, but it was gone.

He went back to England in a hospital boat unhurt.

“I don’t know what happened to (the rest of the crew),” he said. “But on that hospital boat a lot of people died. You really felt sorry for them, and you really wondered, ‘Why them and not me?’

“I looked up a little more — or more often, maybe. (Someone) had to be looking out for me.”

Taylor was soon sent back to the battlefield.

“The next day another batch of halftracks were ready for me and I was back (to Normandy.)”

Along with D-Day, Taylor was part of the Battle of the Bulge.

Throughout the war, he saw friends die and had many close calls of his own. He recalled one instance in July of 1944 during a battle in Saint Lo, France, when a German artillery shell exploded just a few feet away from him after Allied P-47 fighter planes bombed a German stationary front, but apparently missed a few Nazi soldiers.

Taylor and a fellow soldier immediately jumped back in their foxhole after seeing the shell — seconds before it went off.

“The P-47s went and bombed the front lines,” he said. “You couldn’t hear yourself holler. When they left, the (Germans) shelled the (expletive) out of us. They didn’t kill them all.

“When we looked up there was a shell that hit in front of us, but it was on a delayed fuse. We were lying in the hole when it went off.”

After the war was over, Taylor patrolled the Allied-controlled half of Germany and befriended many of the German people — including a former German soldier who was an interrupter.

“There were good people there, in Germany,” he said. “They weren’t in control (during the war), the SS was.

“One night our interpreter invited us over to his home, and his wife made us a darn good meal. I fought the Germans, but I couldn’t feel bad towards him — nor the people.”

When Taylor got back to the Manhattan area after the war, he met his eventual wife, Lorna, in Wamego. On June 6, 1948 — four years to the day he was on the English Channel approaching Normandy — he married her. They’re still together today. Lorna’s father, it turned out, was an immigrant from Germany when his parents came to America when he was 6.

“I invaded (Germany) again,” he joked. “She’s made me a good wife for 66 years (today.)

“I won again.”

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